The Complete Guide to Dolphins Free Agency

Mario CuadrosContributor IIMarch 5, 2013

The Complete Guide to Dolphins Free Agency

0 of 9

    With free agency negotiations only three days away, teams have began using franchise tags and re-signing players. The list has been getting shorter, but some big names will still be available on Saturday when negotiations begin and a week from now, when players can begin signing with other teams. 

    Free agency is a time were teams use all the cap space they have created in order to improve their team. Miami will be one of the biggest spenders this year along with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.

    Miami decided to trade some of its best players—Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis—in order to create more cap space and use 2013 to rebuild the team through free agency and the draft. 

    Jeff Ireland has been criticized ever since he arrived in Miami, but with all the ammunition he will possess this offseason, he will have a chance to redeem himself. There are big-name free agents that fit Miami's areas of need and Miami has to do whatever it can to sign the best players in the market.

    Here's a guide to Miami's free agency including cap numbers, pending unrestricted and restricted free agents and potential targets.

Cap

1 of 9

    Heading into free agency with big needs at a few positions, Miami will have the luxury to attract some big name free agents by offering big money.

    According to the Sun Sentinel's Omar Kelly, the Dolphins had the third-most cap space in the league. They had about $44.9 million in cap space before slapping Randy Starks with the franchise tag. After using the tag, the Dolphins are left with $35.7 million (via overthecap.com) to distribute among free agents and signed draft picks.

    Other big spenders will be the Cincinnati Bengals, who have about $45.3 million in cap space, the Cleveland Browns with about $46.6 million and the Indianapolis Colts, who have $43.5 million in cap space.

    Jeff Ireland was able to put Miami in this position by trading some players with big contracts and deciding not to re-sign other quality players. 2013 is the year when the Dolphins' brass needs to take advantage of their heavy pockets and do all they can to bring in quality free agents.

    Criticized by many fans for playing it safe and making head-scratching decisions, Ireland needs to hit it out of the park this offseason if he has plans of sticking around in the future. If he strikes out with the cap space he has and the amount of quality free agents available this year, it's hard to believe he will be kept around any longer.

Unrestricted Free Agents and Restricted Free Agents

2 of 9

    Unrestricted Free Agents (11)

    RB Reggie Bush

    S Chris Clemons

    S Tyrone Culver

    TE Anthony Fasano

    G/T Nate Garner

    WR Brian Hartline

    K Nate Kaeding

    LT Jake Long

    DT Tony McDaniel

    QB Matt Moore

    CB Sean Smith

     

    Restricted Free Agents (5)

    S Jonathon Amaya

    TE Jeron Mastrud

    CB Bryan McCann

    WR Marlon Moore

    LB Austin Spitler 

     

    Players such as Hartline, Clemons, Fasano, Smith, Long and Bush were all starters for Miami this past season. They played big roles on the team and, even though Miami won't be able to sign all of them, the ones they do bring back will play even bigger roles next year.

    According to Adam Beasley of The Miami Herald, the Dolphins are making Hartline and Clemons their biggest priorities.

    Clemons is by no means the best safety available in free agency this year, but his contributions were not overlooked by Miami. Miami was able to field a good duo at safety for the first time in quite some time. Even though Reshad Jones received most of the credit and publicity, Clemons had a solid year.

    Re-signing Hartline appears to be a no-brainer after his 1,000-yard season. He only managed to score one touchdown, but if he is able to slide over to a No. 2 receiving role and let another receiver take most of the defensive attention, he will be able to make plays. If Miami is able to bring in Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings and are able to re-sign Hartline, the wide receiver group will be exponentially better than it was last season.

    As far as Smith, Long and Bush, the Dolphins don't seem to interested in bringing them back. Long will most likely be looking for a big contract, which Miami will be reluctant to give him. Smith has been disappointing in his tenure with the Dolphins and has not proven to anyone that he should be re-signed. Bush has stated that he wants to stay in Miami, but the team is simply not interested in keeping him around with Lamar Miller ready to take the next step.

Franchise Tag

3 of 9

    It wasn't a big surprise when the Dolphins decided to slap Randy Starks with the franchise tag. He was one of the Dolphins' best defensive player, making contributions to both the running game and passing game.

    The one negative aspect about tagging Starks is that he will eat up $8.45 million this season. This lowers Miami's cap space to sign some big name free agents at positions of need. 

    By tagging Starks, Miami doesn't allow him to hit the free-agent market and gives them more time to reach a long-term agreement with the two-time Pro Bowler. Starks has shown his value for this defensive unit and Miami just could not let him walk.

    If Miami and Starks are unable to settle on a long-term contract, the Dolphins will be looking at having both of their starting defensive tackles with expiring contracts next year. Many believe Jared Odrick will eventually move to defensive tackle, but Miami simply can't lose both Starks and Soliai at the same time.

    Using the franchise tag is not something that a general manager wants to do, but if it means retaining one of your best players you have to use all your resources. 

    The cap hit that the tag will create is significant, but it doesn't deter the Dolphins from going out and signing one of the big-name wide receivers and other solid players out in the market. 

Team Needs

4 of 9

    Team Needs

    WR

    CB

    OL

    DE

    TE

    FS

     

    The two most pressing needs for Miami are wide receiver and cornerback. Ryan Tannehill was given very few weapons to be successful in his rookie season, but that will most likely change going into next season.

    Miami was also able to trade its best cornerback, Vontae Davis, when Richard Marshall outplayed him in training camp. However, Marshall suffered a season-ending injury early in the season causing Miami have one of the worst passing defenses in the league.

    Brian Hartline was being asked to go against the opposition's top cornerback ever game and was able to be contained more often than not. Hartline is a terrific option for Tannehill to have, but not as the top option. If he's paired with a true No. 1 receiver, he will be able to take advantage of matchups and become a bigger threat.

    Along with Hartline, Davone Bess was the other Miami receiver that had any type of impact. He is a very good slot receiver with sure hands. With Miami's weak talent at wide receiver, Bess was taken out of his comfort zone and asked to run seam routes along the sidelines against faster and taller cornerbacks. With a better receiver on the roster, Bess will be able to focus on his main duties as a slot receiver running shorter, precise routes.

    Sean Smith was given the chance to be Miami's No. 1 cornerback and prove to them that he should be re-signed. It's safe to say that he didn't prove anything to anyone. Smith was a disappointment all season long as he was too inconsistent and allowed too many big plays. With Smith as its best cornerback, it's evident Miami did not have a very good group of cornerbacks.

    Aside from wide receiver and cornerback, needs for Miami include pass-rusher and offensive line.

    With Jake Long as good as gone and Jonathan Martin likely filling in at left tackle from now on, they will have to find a right tackle to replace Martin. It is possible that Miami prefers to take a tackle in the draft instead of free agency, unless they are willing to go after someone like Sebastian Vollmer. 

    As for defensive end, Miami has the luxury of having one of the best in Cameron Wake, but he is not able to generate all the pass rush on every down. Miami must get him some help. There are a few solid players that will hit the market that will probable get a long, hard look from Jeff Ireland. Players such as Dwight Freeney, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and the recently released John Abraham. However, with the amount of talented defensive ends coming out of college this year, Miami might wait until April to get Wake the help he needs.

Mike Wallace

5 of 9

    It is obvious the Dolphins will be making wide receiver one of their priorities this offseason. According to Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel, the Dolphins are making Mike Wallace their No. 1 priority when free agency begins. 

    Wallace, who has been Pittsburgh's best receiver the last few seasons, will not be hit with the franchise tag and will be looking for a big payday wherever he goes. Lucky for him, and the Dolphins, Miami has a lot of cash to throw his way.

    Vincent Jackson set the bar pretty high last season after he signed a five-year, $55.5 million contract with the Buccaneers and Dwayne Bowe just signed a five-year contract worth $56 million. Wallace may be looking for something north of that mark. He turned down a contract from the Steelers that exceeded these numbers, so it's safe to say that he may be looking at a five-year, $60 million contract, or something along those lines. 

    That is a hefty price to pay any player, especially someone that has been criticized for drops. However, the Dolphins desperately need an explosive, playmaking wide receiver and Wallace is the only free agent that possesses those qualities.

    Miami has plenty of cap space and bidding on Wallace is a smart way to start spending it.

Jared Cook

6 of 9

    With news that the Tennessee Titans won't be slapping Jared Cook with the franchise tag, Miami instantly becomes one of the teams that will be looking for the athletic tight end's services.

    Teams are looking for pass-catching tight ends that can create mismatches and open up the offense. Miami will be looking for someone that fits the mold this offseason. 

    Anthony Fasano has been a solid contributor during his tenure, but he simply doesn't possess the athletic ability to be feared in the passing game. 

    If Miami does go after Cook, it should be willing to throw a good amount of money on the table. Cook is not considered to be an elite tight end, but the need for players with his skills make him a lot more expensive than he should be. 

    Bleacher Report's Thomas Galicia gives us an idea of what type of contract might lure Cook into coming to Miami. These numbers should satisfy both parties and allow Miami to bring in another weapon to help Ryan Tannehill.

    By adding both Mike Wallace and Cook, the Dolphins' passing game becomes a whole lot more explosive. With these two players in the roster, touchdowns won't be as hard to come by and Joe Philbin's fast-paced West Coast offense can finally flourish.

Derek Cox

7 of 9

    Miami may be reluctant to re-sign Sean Smith after a disappointing season during his contract year. Smith has mostly under-performed since he was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft and should not be given a big contract.

    If they decide to move on, Jeff Ireland needs to bring in at least one cornerback whether it's through free agency or the draft. 

    There are a few solid cornerbacks hitting the free agent market this year. Some names that stand out are Brent Grimes, Cary Williams, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Aquib Talib to name a few. The cornerback the Dolphins should really pursue is Derek Cox.

    Cox gives the Dolphins the playmaker in the defensive secondary that they have been lacking since Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers. 

    The knock on Cox is that he hasn't been able to stay healthy the past two seasons in missing 14 games, but his upside is too much to pass up. He wouldn't be the greatest improvement over Smith, but an improvement nonetheless, and he would be a cheaper option than Grimes or Rodgers-Cromartie.

    If Miami are able to win the battle for Cox and are able to bring in a top-tier prospect in the draft, the secondary instantly becomes one of the more improved units on the team.

Additional Players

8 of 9

    Miami's targets when free agency begins appear to be clear. The Dolphins will be going after a wide receiver and a cornerback first and foremost. With roughly $36.3 million left after using the franchise tag, Miami now has to be more careful about how it distributes its money. 

    Out of those $36.3 million left, the Dolphins will have to allocate about $5-6 million to sign their draft picks. This would trim down their salary cap to around $30.8 million. If Miami is willing to give Mike Wallace the contract he's looking for—and it should—the Dolphins would then be looking at something along the lines of $19-20 million left. Giving Jared Cook about $5 million per year would lower their cap space to $14-15 million.

    This leaves them with some extra cap space that they can distribute among other solid, but cheaper free agents. Derek Cox would be one of these options. Giving him a $4.5 million-per-year contract would leave the Dolphins with around $10.5 million left. 

    Jeff Ireland wants to re-sign Brian Hartline and Chris Clemons, which he can do with the money he has left. Hartline has been seeking a deal that would net him about $6 million per year, but if the Dolphins can lower that number to $5.5-5.7 million per year, he would most likely find himself back in South Florida. 

    On the other hand, if Miami is able to agree to a deal worth around $3 million per year with Clemons, it would lock up its safety tandem for at least another year.

Overview

9 of 9

    Needing about $5 million-$6 million to sign their draft picks, the Dolphins are left with just enough money to stay over the salary cap.

    Free agency will dictate what Miami will do in the draft and the additions of Wallace, Cook and Cox, and the re-signing of Hartline and Clemons allow the Dolphins to trim their needs heading into it. Offensive line and defensive end become Miami's most pressing needs allowing them to focus on the best players at those positions.

    Jeff Ireland wanted to have plenty of cap space to sing free agents this year. Now that he has it, it's his job to deliver the goods.

     

    Starting Cap $44.9 million
    Cap After Franchise Tag $35.6 million
    Mike Wallace $11.5 million per-year
    Derek Cox $4.5 million per-year
    Brian Hartline $6 million per-year
    Jared Cook $5 million per-year
    Chris Clemons $3 million per-year
    Remaining $5.6 million